2146.) Acts 7:37-60

July 24, 2017

This painting of the stoning of Stepen is in the monastery at Beit Jamal, just outside Jerusalem. Note Saul standing in the background.

Acts 7:37-60 (NLT)

Stephen Addresses the Council

In 1777, William Dodd, a well-known London clergyman, was condemned to be hanged for forgery. When his last sermon, delivered in prison, was published, a friend commented to Samuel Johnson that the effort was far better than he had thought the man capable of. Dr. Johnson replied, “Depend upon it, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

I cannot say whether Stephen sensed that he was about to be stoned to death when he delivered this message before the Sanhedrin, but his mind was wonderfully concentrated! More than just speaking well because of the threat of death, Stephen spoke powerfully because he was filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55). It is the longest sermon in Acts, and so the Holy Spirit thought it to be important enough for Luke to record it to the extent that he did.

Perhaps Luke wanted his largely Gentile audience to get a brief history of God’s dealings with Israel. The sermon also serves as a transition to the Gentile mission that follows this chapter, in that it shows Israel’s continued stubborn rejection of God’s message and messengers. It shows that God had worked in many places and ways with His servants down through the centuries, and so worship is not limited to the land of Palestine or to the temple. Like Abraham, who obediently followed the Lord, so God’s people must go where He leads.

Stephen was charged with speaking against Moses, against God, against the temple, and against the law and the customs handed down by Moses (6:11. 13, 14). While overall his message shows the charges to be false, it is more a sermon that traces God’s historical dealings with Israel, Israel’s history of rebellion against God, and a climax that indicts his hearers of the very charges that they were bringing against him. They were guilty of rejecting Moses and the law, and even worse, they had just killed the Righteous One whom God had sent for their salvation.

Thus — Stephen’s sermon points us to the sovereign, abundant grace of God toward rebellious sinners, but also to the danger of hardening our hearts against God’s grace.

–Steven J. Cole

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’

35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

37 “Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ 38 Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.

Exodus 32:4 (New Living Translation) Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Exodus 32:4 — Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

39 “BUT!  our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. 42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,

‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
the shrine of Molech,
the star of your god Rephan,
and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
as far away as Babylon.’

 

 

44 “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. 45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 BUT!  the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50 Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

"The Stoning of St. Stephen" by Parrish Kline

“The Stoning of St. Stephen” by Parrish Kline

54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

Mark 14:61-62 (NIV)

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

__________________

A MIRROR
by David Wilkerson

“But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).

Stephen represents what a true Christian is supposed to be:  one who is full of the Holy Ghost with eyes fixed on the Man in glory.  He is one who mirrors that glory in such a way that all who see it will be amazed and filled with wonder.  He is one with a steady gaze fixed on Christ, always looking up to him, fully occupied with a glorified Savior.

Look at the hopeless condition Stephen was in, surrounded by religious madness,  superstition, prejudice, and jealousy.  The angry crowd pressed in on him, wild-eyed and bloodthirsty, and death loomed just ahead of him.  What impossible circumstances!  But looking up into heaven, he beheld his Lord in glory, and suddenly his rejection here on earth meant nothing to him.  Now he was above it all, seeing him who was invisible.

One glimpse of the Lord’s glory, one vision of his precious holiness, and Stephen could no longer be hurt.  The stones and the angry cursing were all harmless to him because of the joy set before him.  One glimpse of Christ’s glory places you above all your circumstances.  Keeping your eyes on Christ, consciously reaching out to him every waking hour, provides peace and serenity as nothing else can.

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Stephen caught the rays of the glorified Man in heaven and reflected them to a Christ-rejecting society.

How true that we become what we behold.  The proper translation should read, “We all, with open face mirroring the glory, are changed!”  The idea is that the Christian reflects, like a mirror, the glory on which he gazes continually.  It is we who are “in the glass”—a mirror—looking on Christ, the object of our affection and becoming like him in the process of beholding.

When the enemy comes in like a flood and troubling circumstances get us down, we need to both amaze and condemn the world around us by our sweet, restful repose in Christ. Since we see by our spiritual mind, this is accomplished by keeping our minds stayed on Christ.

56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

“Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing his servant before God.”

—Robert Bruce, Scottish theologian of the 17th century

57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

8)  Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

St. Augustine said, “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”

_________________________

Music:

Was it here that Paul saw something which years later he articulated as — “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”?  This song is Stephen’s song:   “I Am Crucified with Christ”  sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean.  Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean started singing together in 1991; all three are full-time pastors.  HERE.

As I look back on what I thought was living
I’m amazed at the price I chose to pay
And to think I ignored what really mattered
Cause I thought the sacrifice would be too great
And when I finally reached the point of giving in
I found the cross was calling even then
And even though it took dying to survive
I’ve never felt so much alive.

For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live
Not I but Christ that lives within me
His Cross will never ask for more than I can give
For it’s not my strength but His
There’s no greater sacrifice
For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live

As I hear the Savior call for daily dying
I will bow beneath the weight of Calvary
Let my hands surrender to His piercing purpose
That holds me to the cross yet sets me free
I will glory in the power of the cross
The things I thought were gain I count as loss
And with His suffering I identify
And by His resurrection power I am alive

And I will offer all I am
So that His cross is not in vain
For I found to live is Christ
And to die is truly gain

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
 painting from Beit Jamal.   http://www.biblewalks.com/Photos80/BeitJamal9.JPG
golden calf.  http://skirblog.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341cb55f53ef010536f93bdd970b-popup
Tabernacle.  http://www.foi.org/media/filer/2012/06/27/ptab-large.jpg
Klein.  http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3106/2590616610_7bf6b7dd07.jpg
mirror.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/acts-7-mirror.jpg

2145.) Acts 7:1-36

July 21, 2017

Have you ever attended a “Walk Thru the Old Testament” seminar? It is a wonderful experience! Stephen leads the Sanhedrin through one (of sorts!) in Acts 7.

Acts 7:1-36 (NLT)

Stephen Addresses the Council

1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”

2 This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me.

Remember the charges brought against Stephen in Acts 6:11 and 13-14:  First, that he spoke blasphemous words against Moses, he spoke against the law, and spoke to change Jewish customs. Second, that he spoke blasphemous words against God and God’s dwelling place, the temple.

In this sermon, Stephen gives a panorama of Old Testament history. We shouldn’t think Stephen instructed the Sanhedrin on points of Jewish history they were ignorant of. Instead, Stephen wants to emphasize some things revealed in Jewish history they may not have considered: That God has never confined Himself to one place (like the temple), and that the Jewish people have a habit of rejecting those God sends to them!

–David Guzik

Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. 3 God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’

Genesis 12:1 (New International Version) "The LORD had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'"

Genesis 12:1 — “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.'”

4 So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.

5 “BUT!  God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. 6 God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 7 ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’

Stephen wants to make it clear that God appeared to Abraham, and guided Abraham, and blessed Abraham when there was no temple. Abraham didn’t need the temple to be close to God.

8 “God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.

Genesis 37:3-4 (King James Version) "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him."

Genesis 37:3-4 — “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”

9 “These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. BUT!  God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles.

Again, Stephen is emphasizing the spiritual presence of God with Joseph all the time.

And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.

11 “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. 12 Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. 13 The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, and they were introduced to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. 15 So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

17 “As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18 But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

"The Finding of Moses" by contemporary Chinese artist He Qi

“The Finding of Moses” by contemporary Chinese artist He Qi

20 “At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. 21 When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. 24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, BUT!  they didn’t.

26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

Exodus 3:2-3 (Contemporary English Version) "There an angel of the LORD appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up. 'This is strange!' he said to himself. 'I'll go over and see why the bush isn't burning up.'"

Exodus 3:2-3 — “There an angel of the LORD appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up. ‘This is strange!’ he said to himself. ‘I’ll go over and see why the bush isn’t burning up.'”

30 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

God’s appearance to Moses at the burning bush is important to Stephen, because it shows that God’s presence is not limited to the temple. God is bigger than the temple, and Moses did not need the temple to be close to God.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’

35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

_________________________

Music:

How brightly Stephen’s light is shining as he witnesses to the truth of God! Or, to use a different metaphor, how sweetly his life song is singing for the Lord!  HERE  is Casting Crowns and “Life Song.”

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Walk Thru.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/wt-ot.jpg
Abraham and the stars.  https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/5a/82/26/5a8226b059339695952339a575f585f6.jpg
Joseph and his coat of many colors.  http://www.artneedlepoint.com/images/Joseph%20and%20His%20Coat%20of%20Many%20Colors.jpg
He Qi.    http://www.mnartists.org/sites/default/files/article/images/7d97f13c1ad3e7a4a284053f4f1867ce.jpg
burning bush.  http://heavenawaits.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/burning-bush.jpg

2144.) Acts 6

July 20, 2017

6. seven deacons print

Acts 6 (NLT)

Seven Men Chosen to Serve

1 But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers,

The Hebrew-speakers were local Jews; the Greek-speakers were Jews from all over the Roman Empire. There existed already a kind of mutual suspicion:  the locals thought the foreigners were lax in their faith and apt to compromise with the secular culture, while the Greek-speakers saw the Hebrew-speakers as too traditional and holier-than-thou.

saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

Matthew 25:40 (Contemporary English Version) "The king will answer, 'Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.'"

Matthew 25:40 (Contemporary English Version) “The king will answer, ‘Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.'”

2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. 3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. 4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

The apostles have a clear sense of their calling, and a clear understanding of the time it takes to pray and teach the word aright.

Seven men — one for each day of the week?

5 Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). 6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

All seven have Greek names, so it seems they will take care of the problem they have pointed out.

1 Timothy 3:8-9 (Contemporary English Version) "Church officers should be serious. They must not be liars, heavy drinkers, or greedy for money. And they must have a clear conscience and hold firmly to what God has shown us about our faith."

1 Timothy 3:8-9 (Contemporary English Version) “Church officers should be serious. They must not be liars, heavy drinkers, or greedy for money. And they must have a clear conscience and hold firmly to what God has shown us about our faith.”

7 So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Psalm 51:18 (ESV)

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure.

Considering all that could have gone wrong when Satan tried to attack through division, everyone involved deserves much credit.

Those with the complaint, the Hellenists, did the right thing: They made the need known, instead of complaining and whining, and they trusted the solution of the apostles.

Those of the other party, the Hebrews, did the right thing: They recognized that the Hellenists had a legitimate need and they trusted the solution of the apostles.

The seven chosen men did the right thing: They accepted the call to unglamorous service.

The apostles did the right thing: They responded to the need without distracting themselves from their central task.

–David Guzik

_________________________

Music:

HERE  is “The Servant Song,” written by Richard Gillard from New Zealand in 1977.  It has touched countless lives.

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too
.
 
We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
.
 
I will hold the Christlight for you
In the night-time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear
.
 
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through
.
 
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
.
 
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too
_________________________

Stephen Is Arrested

This icon by Nicholas Papas is from St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

This icon by Nicholas Papas is from St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

11 So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” 12 This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.

13 The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. 14 We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

Note the charges:  First, that he spoke blasphemous words against Moses, he spoke against the law, and spoke to change Jewish customs. Second, that he spoke blasphemous words against God and God’s dwelling place, the temple.

–David Guzik

15 At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.

The face of an angel . . . Stephen was at perfect peace. His face was not filled with fear or terror, because he knew his life was in God’s hands. And wherever God sends you, God goes with you. 

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
seven men, drawing.  http://i1.wp.com/www.jrdkirk.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/7deacons.jpg?resize=300%2C219
meals on wheels.  http://static.wixstatic.com/media/d95ebf_7c50ec5699f64b7291a2a34b8b166ef8~mv2.jpg_srz_390_275_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz
seven men, photo.
St. Stephen icon.  https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/be/85/2e/be852e74f77a5eee514d05fec38554e8.jpg

2143.) Acts 5:17-42

July 19, 2017

Acts 5:17-42 (NLT)

The Apostles Meet Opposition

17 The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.

Psalm 25:19-21 (NIV)

See how my enemies have increased
and how fiercely they hate me!

Guard my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.

May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.

19 But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out. Then he told them, 20 “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!”

Acts 5:20 (Amplified Bible)

Go, take your stand in the temple courts and declare to the people the whole doctrine concerning this Life (the eternal life which Christ revealed).

So the Sanhedrin says, Stop teaching the resurrection, and the angel says, Go declare the resurrection!

21 So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.

When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council—the full assembly of the elders of Israel. Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial. 22 But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone. So they returned to the council and reported, 23 “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!”

24 When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end. 25 Then someone arrived with startling news: “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!”

26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them.

28 “Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.

Could the members of the Sanhedrin say the same?

Numbers 22:18 (NASB)

Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God.”

30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Trinity!  GOD raised JESUS from the dead, and the HOLY SPIRIT is the witness.

33 When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.

Gamaliel was highly regarded by the Jews of his day, and was a key leader of the Sanhedrin. St. Paul was one of his students (see Acts 22:3).

Gamaliel was highly regarded by the Jews of his day, and was a key leader of the Sanhedrin. St. Paul was one of his students (see Acts 22:3).

34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. 35 Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! 36 Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. 37 After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered.

38 “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

While Gamaliel’s speech worked to the freedom of the apostles, one must wonder what further proof Gamaliel was waiting for. Were the miracles of the apostles and the resurrection of Christ insufficient evidence?

40 The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.

41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.  42 And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”

_________________________

Music:

Your grace is enough,
Your grace is enough,
Your grace is enough for me . . .

HERE  is “Your Grace Is Enough”  by Matt Maher and Chris Tomlin.

_________________________

I have friends who are missionaries in South Asia; they teach pastors there to tell Bible stories by heart.  Many of these pastors have amazing stories of the results of their evangelistic activities.  Here is one story, which seems to be of the same fabric as what we have read today in Acts.  The names of the village and the pastor have been abbreviated for safety reasons.

A Church for O.
Told by P. N.

To reach the tribal people where I minister, I have to travel by boat all day, staying overnight in one of the villages along the way, and finishing my journey the next day. This remote tribal village is surrounded by mountains, with no hospital, no school, no facilities of any kind. There are no roads — the only way to get there is by boat.

It’s a mountainous area, so I sit there on a big stone and tell Bible stories to the children.

One day as I was traveling back home, I had stopped overnight in O. village. Somebody came and called me and said, “Can you please come to this lady’s house, because she is suffering with fever?”

When I got there the sick woman said, “I have heard that you are telling good stories and encouraging people. So just tell us some stories, some of God’s healing stories, and then please pray for us.” This whole family had been sick for a long time. Not even a single one of them was well. Everyone — even the children — were constantly sick.

She told me, “It is because of the witchcraft and sorcery that people have done to us — my father and my mother and my relatives are all dead. Now only my husband and I are left.” She begged me, “Please do something. Do something for us.”

I told her, “If I pray, nothing harmful will come into your life, not even any witchcraft or any evil forces will have power to hurt you. Just give me some oil and water and I’ll pray for you before I go.”

So I told them the story of Lazarus who had died, and even after 4 days Jesus came and called him to come out of the tomb. After finishing this story, I called the family together and sprinkled the oil and water over them and prayed.

After the prayer, they came and started to bow before me, saying, “Please help us.”

I told them, “I have prayed and now nothing will happen to you. Everything evil is gone.”

By now it was evening, 6:30 PM, and they invited me, “Please stay with us tonight and eat good food.” That was enticing because they cultivate good maize. But I replied, “I don’t want to impose because you are ill now. When you get better, I will come and stay with you.” They said, “Just come to our place and we can start having regular prayer.” They asked me to come again and again.

From that day on, no one in that family is sick. They were totally and completely healed! When I pass by, even if they see me from a long distance away, they will call greetings because they are healed.

The next day before continuing my journey, I also prayed for a neighbor of theirs who was old and very seriously ill. That old lady was shouting and groaning in pain, “Ooh, aah,” because she was not well. I was not able to share a story with her because she was shouting. But I prayed and God healed her.

Now I want to start a church there in O. village. There are sixty to seventy houses. I am unable to go more often because it is 75 kilometers away but I believe God will help me to plant a church there. Please pray for us.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
 Acts 5:29.   https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/31/b8/af/31b8afad7303423028744ed1a916a64f–the-blacksmith-acts-.jpg
empty tomb.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/emptygrave.jpg
high priest accusing the apostles.     http://www.biblesearchers.com/hebrewchurch/primitive/primitive4_files/image002.jpg
Gamaliel.  http://www.zianet.com/maxey/gam4.jpg

2142.) Acts 5:1-16

July 18, 2017
"The Death of Sapphira" by Nicolas Poussin, 1652 (The Louvre, Paris)

“The Death of Sapphira” by Nicolas Poussin, 1652 (The Louvre, Paris)

Acts 5:1-16 (NLT)

Ananias and Sapphira

1 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.

They wanted honor without honesty.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.

Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”

“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”

9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”

10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

  • David Guzik calls this last sentence “one of the great understatements of the Bible!”
  • This is the first use of the word “church” in the book of Acts.

Psalm 34:12-13 (CEV)

Do you want to live

and enjoy a long life?

Then don’t say cruel things

and don’t tell lies.

________________

from Peculiar Treasures,
by Frederick Buechner

ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA

It wasn’t because Ananias held back from the poor box some of the proceeds of his real estate deal that Saint Peter came down on him so hard. The poor would get by somehow. They always had. What got the old saint’s goat was that Ananias let on he was handing over  his whole pile instead of only as much as he though he wouldn’t be needing himself.

“You have not lied to men but to God,” Peter said, and the undeniable truth of the charge together with the unbearable shame of it were more than Ananias could take, so he dropped dead. His wife, Sapphira, had been in on the real estate deal with him, and when she turned up three hours later and found out what had happened, she dropped dead too.

Lying to God is like sawing the branch you’re sitting on. The better you do it, the harder you fall.

The Apostles Heal Many

12 The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. 14 Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. 16 Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.

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Music:

So many voices are calling out for our attention!  Who were Ananias and Sapphira listening to?  Surely they knew stories of other people of faith who had to choose which voice to obey!

And the next obvious question:  Who am I listening to?  Let us take that question seriously.  HERE  is Casting Crowns and “The Voice of Truth.”

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Poussin.  http://www.abcgallery.com/P/poussin/poussin86.html
Ananias drops dead.    http://bibleencyclopedia.com/goodsalt/Acts_5_Story_of_Ananias_and_Sapphira.htm
Ananias and Sapphira.    http://contributionlessons.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/ags-screenshot489.jpg?w=199&h=250

2141.) Acts 4

July 17, 2017

4. Sanhedrin

Acts 4 (NLT)

Peter and John before the Council

1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. 2 These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.

No doubt the Sadducees were disturbed! One of their belief tenants was no life after death, so the story of Jesus and his resurrection was anathema to them!

3 They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.

The rules of the Sanhedrin forbade them to have a life-and-death meeting after dark — even though that is exactly what they did with Jesus.

4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.

5 The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest.

These are some of the same people who recently sat at Jesus’ trial.

7 They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man?

Ouch! Peter smacks the Sanhedrin! Who is judging whom?!

Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.’

Psalm 118:22-23 (ESV)

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

4. cornerstone

12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

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Music:

“No Other Name”  by Unhindered, a Christian worship band from Atlanta.  HERE.

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13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.

May that be my epitaph: 
The world recognized that she had been with Jesus.

14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. 15 So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

16 “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it.

Such blindness and hard-heartedness! They see the legitimate miracle, yet refuse to acknowledge God in it!

17 But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” 18 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

Peter and John “cannot stop telling”  a) because of the Holy Spirit indwelling them and b) because Jesus commanded them to “be my witnesses.” Oh, to be like them!

Psalm 51:15 (NIV)

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

21 The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God 22 for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.

The Believers Pray for Courage

23 As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. 24 When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—25 you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying,

‘Why were the nations so angry?
Why did they waste their time with futile plans?
26 The kings of the earth prepared for battle;
the rulers gathered together
against the Lord
and against his Messiah.’

27 “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28 But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will.

Isn’t it wonderful how familiar the early believers were with Scripture, so that as they are praying, the holy Word of God can just pour out of their mouths? How that must honor the Father, to hear His children speaking His words! And whatever Scripture they use, the Holy Spirit gives it a true connection to their own situation, to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. 

Do we value the Word enough to keep it in our hearts so continually and on our lips so fluently?  Do we let the Word of God speak to us so directly?

29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

I love that the believers do not pray to escape, or that the leaders will change their minds, or for a easier way.  Instead, they ask for courage to stand up boldly for the Lord Jesus!

Is that how I pray?

The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

icon of St. Barnabas

icon of St. Barnabas

36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

Barnabas understood what my dear husband often says, “People are more important than things.”

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Sanhedrin.   http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Jerusalem/Sanhedrin.jpg
Peter and John before the Sanhedrin.     http://bibleencyclopedia.com/goodsalt/Acts_4_Peter_and_John_Before_Sanhedrin.htm
cornerstone.   http://ablaze.org.au/torchie/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/cornerstonejesus.gif
flowers at gravesite.   http://graveandgarden.com/sitebuilder/images/flower_pink_cross-285×405.jpg
boy reading the Bible.    http://ransdellchapelbaptistchurch.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/boy.133204233_std.jpg
St. Barnabas.   http://www.stbarnabasborrego.org/images/BarnabsIcons/757large.jpg

2140.) Acts 3

July 14, 2017

3. lame beggar

Acts 3 (NLT)

Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. 2 As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.4 Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money.

3. Peter heals

6 But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

7 Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. 8 He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

9 All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. 10 When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! 11 They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.

“Far more abundantly” God has in mind,  for the beggar and for us (and yes, that includes you!) —

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
—C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Peter Preaches in the Temple

12 Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? 13 For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this.

Peter knows that simply seeing the miracle is not enough to bring the people to faith. As Paul says in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” So Peter tells the story, the only story that can save lives.

This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. 14 You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

16 “Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.

Psalm 103:1-5 (The Message)

O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your diseases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

17 “Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. 18 But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. 19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. 21 For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 Moses said,

‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything he tells you.’

23 Then Moses said,

‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from God’s people.’

24 “Starting with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today. 25 You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ 26 When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”

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Music:

The book of Acts has been called “The Gospel of the Resurrection.” Peter reminds the crowd again and again that he is a witness to the fact that God raised Christ from the dead. This song captures some of that confidence!  HERE  is “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow”

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
a lame beggar.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/3-lame-beggar1.jpg?w=450
Peter heals the crippled beggar.   https://revphil2011.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/44003001_c21_-_acts_3_1_-_the_lame_man_healed.jpg
Belvedere Palace, Vienna, Austria.     http://www.bestourism.com/img/items/big/778/The-Belvedere_General-view-of-Belvedere-Palace_3061.jpg
Bless the Lord, o my soul.    http://www.proclaiminghim.com/ph/images/stories/BlessTheLord.jpg